Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Kraftwerk: The Best & Worst LivePA I have seen

On April 21st I had the opportunity to see Kraftwerk, the legendary German electronic group that has pioneered so much for electronic music. They are doing a small US tour and just happened to be in Milwaukee. I figured when is the next time I am going to see these guys, they might retire at anytime. So I paid my $30 ($50 after Ticketmaster fees) and made the drive up from Chicago.

Now as my post title sort of indicates, this show was great, but also at the same time horrible. We have discussed on this blog and over there many avenues the issues surrounding LivePA. One of the most common issues that always come up in discussions is the laptop debate. Along with that is the artist who just sits there staring at their laptop through and entire show. That is exactly what Kraftwerk did. Stared at their laptops, all four of them and didn’t move. Now I know this is sort of their schtick, and in many respects many of the stereotypes of electronic music and musicians have been formed based off of Kraftwerk, but seeing them really do this in person is a rather unnerving experience. You can also see the crowd not knowing exactly what they should be doing during the music because of the stiffness of the artists on stage. At only a few points throughout the entire show did I see anyone really get dancing.

Overall though I don’t want to totally rag on the show. The music was very tight and well done. The visuals were spot on and I can only speculate that one of the four on stage was controlling the visuals. This tightness in their set however leads me to believe that they have a very choreographed performance, with little room for improvisation. Are they checking their email on state? I can’t tell. Heck, I can barely tell that the performers are still alive.

When all said and done though the show was an ejoyable with a very tight set (maybe too tight) and great visuals. Worth the effort for the rare opportunity to see them in the U.S.


J. Wells said...

To be fair, that's all Kraftwerk has ever done-- stand there playing. It's a combination of German austerity, conscious rejection of the title "performer" (they view themselves as composer-technicians, and composer-technicians), and their obsession with humans emulating machines. After so many years, it would be utterly weird if they were to suddenly begin bobbing their heads, dancing around, playing their instruments with wild gesticulation, etc. At this stage in their career, they can't afford to alienate their core fan base, however small, with radical change that would be deemed unnecessary by their own age-old philosophy. I also think it has something to do with having to treat their gear so delicately for so long-- back in the day, they only ever had one set of gear. What they played on stage was what they made their albums with; Kling Klang studio was literally packed up and taken on the road, so everything was treated with kid gloves. Rocking out on stage just wasn't ever in the cards (except with the hand-held pocket calculator instruments they had in the late 70's/80's, but even then they just looked like epileptic physics majors). And your reaction is not unique, people have been making basically the same complaint over the course of their entire careers. During the infamous "dummy" shows people literally walked around talking to each other and ignoring the stage because there was nobody on it. Even though that was the whole point.

The emphasis is, and has always been, on the music, not the musicians themselves. They are just a medium of delivery and nothing more. Or so they say.

It's only natural that I jump to their defence, of course. One of my earliest memories is of Kraftwerk. ;-)

Anonymous said...

how do you explain this then: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MobpPTVobOk

if that's not rocking out, i don't know what is. and check out the crowd.

i saw them in detroit in 1999 and people were going bonkers.

keep in mind the kraftwerk you saw only includes 1 original member.

Anonymous said...

sorry my bad, i hadn't read through your whole comment. carry on then.....

decrepitude said...

I'm reading Wolfgang Flur's autobiography right now, "Kraftwerk - I was a Robot" and it's quite an interesting read. I have to agree with the first response, Kraftwerk have in fact been performing with very little emotion since 1975. It is definately part of their aesthetic and always has been.
It's was quite common that American audiences didn't know how to react to such a performance and it's still true to this day. It really depends on the location. Go see Kraftwerk in Amsterdam and the crowd reaction will be a night and day difference.

It's nice that Daft Punk and even nicer that Kraftwerk (and electronic music in general) is becoming more easily digestible by the american public.
HOWEVER, remember when yuppies started to attend Grateful Dead shows? This is what I fear for "electronica". I'm actually relieved when I see that
people don't get it. Keep it underground, it's more fun that way!

Did you know Wolfgang pretty much built the first drum-cat style drumming pad? Man (or should I say "Mensch!"), these guys might as well also be partly responsible for the DIY culture happening in electronic music right

Wolfgang's book is a bit more focused on his memoirs, but there is enough tasty factoids to keep the Kraftwerk fans happy such as Wolfgang's story of building his drumpad.

Anonymous said...

What I can't figure out is why did Kraftwerk even waste time playing in Minneapolis? Oddest booking of the year.

Anonymous said...

I feel like this review was written by somebody who has no idea who Kraftwerk is other than by name. The article came across as incredibly naive like it was written by a college student for the university paper (maybe it was?). What do you mean the crowd didn't know what to do. Was the whole room full of people who had no idea who Kraftwerk were? Why is it the people in Seattle and Coachella had no problem knowing what to do.

"They were four German men and they played electronic music. The music was comprised of beeps and boops and very intriguing. There was no sign of a drum set on stage yet I could clearly hear beats as if created magically from the computer."

M.A.S. said...

You are exactly right. It was written by someone who has no idea about Kraftwerk except by name. That is the whole reason why I went to the show. To find out why they are such a beloved band.

I wouldn't necessarily call my post a review though. More just a telling of an experience. I am not a journalist or industry professional. I am just some guy who likes electronic music who is in his 20's and I told it as I saw it. I would imagine there are a whole ton of people in my demographic who write and listen to electronic music and have no idea about what Kraftwerk is really about. I can't honestly say I know anymore now about them then when I went to the show. Personally, I don't think you necessarily have to understand it to enjoy the experience. Did I have a great time at the show? Sure I did. Do I think that Krafterwek is some band that is doing something brilliant, avant garde or provocative? No, but that doesn't mean I didn't like them.

You also may very well be right about the crowd. Again I just call it as I see it. This was a performance in Milwaukee after all, not Coachella.